Category Archives: Real life stories

How our DNA tests connected a stranger to her mother

Author of Fiftypluskiwi with her daughter

The year is 1975. A mother gives birth to a baby girl in Whanganui, New Zealand. Two weeks later, the baby is adopted out and moves 18,530 kilometres away to live in the Netherlands. Forty-six years later, she takes a DNA test.

When I gifted my daughter a DNA test kit for Christmas 2019, little did I know just how much this purchase would change the life of a stranger living on the other side of the world.

For some years, friends had been encouraging me to hop on the booming bandwagon of DNA testing. It would, they said, help me learn more about where my ancestors came from. They would enthuse about the discovery of biological relatives they never knew they had. And although I felt a tad curious about who belonged to our family tree, I was not interested enough to follow through with a DNA test. It was just a trend people latch onto, I thought.

But my adult daughter’s rather probing question, ‘are you sure you are my mother?’, and my lack of ideas for what to buy her for Christmas, set the DNA ball rolling.  At first, I roared with laughter at her question. Of course, I was her birth mother. Every fibre of my being was part of her, and I told her so. But, although our banter was light-hearted, inwardly though, I sensed a probing curiosity hanging off her question. To her, the gap in similarities is vast. Colour and culture dangle between us. Our personality, beliefs, opinion, likes, and dislikes are a complex mix of differences. She thinks of me as a ‘straighty one-eighty’, and in my eyes, she is a colourful blend of ‘naughty nice’ and ‘nice naughty’.

Author of Fiftypluskiwi with her daughter
Author of Fiftypluskiwi (R) with daughter Louise (L)

So, to quell my daughter’s curiosity and satisfy my own inquisitiveness about my family tree, I ordered us both a DNA test kit. The kits arrived, and with much hilarity, we spat into our containers, sent them back, and duly waited for the big reveal. As predicted, the results show I am clearly my daughter’s biological mother, plus other information regaling our DNA story. And that was that. We moved on, put the DNA saga behind us. Or so we thought.

A few months later, my daughter receives a prompt from the DNA site advising she had a DNA match to explore. Evidently, she shared a genetic sequence to this match, indicating a possible first or second cousin relationship. My daughter is Maori through her father’s side of the family. Māori rely on orally passing down their ancestry or whakapapa from one generation to the next. To receive a DNA match from this side of the family was indeed surprising. My daughter contacted this supposed match, and one of the first questions asked by this person was, ‘Do you know who my birth parents are?’

To be honest, we were stumped. The DNA match clearly identified this woman as a family member. Unfortunately, we have little contact with this side of the family. I left the marriage over forty years ago so there was a natural hesitancy over probing into something that was not our business to explore. My daughters first attempt at solving the mystery proved fruitless. – no one knew anything about a baby being adopted out.

When you seek something hard enough, that same thing is seeking you. Months went by, and my daughter received another ’I really want to find my birth parent’ from her ‘stranger cousin’. And so, with a certain amount of scepticism, she sent another request to the family. This time, literally within minutes, biological mother, who was my children’s’ aunty, and daughter found each other. When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it, says author Paulo Coelho. This was one of those ‘universe’ moments. I am unable to give any other explanation.

The aching for love and acceptance, that hollow ache in our soul, is a strand of yearning linking us all. Our DNA results were undoubtedly the vehicle of connection to mother and daughter but, in my eyes, it was the passion behind this longing, the power within the hollow ache between a mother and daughter, that fueled the vehicle.

What started as a light-hearted decision to do a DNA test, set the ball rolling towards what has become a beautiful story to add to my daughter’s family history.

I am the elephant in the room – the ‘ugly’ part of self-discovery

A new year and a new exercise book have a lot in common. When I was young, I loved receiving my stationery at the start of the school year. Fizzing with belly wobbles of excitement and intention, I stroked the clean front page of my exercise book as though it was a precious gift. A blank canvas. An invitation to create fresh colour where every squiggle and stroke would be my absolute best work.

Those days are long gone, but I still feel those same belly wobbles of excitement the new year offers. It still feels like an invitation to add fresh colour and make new shapes, an opportunity for a fresh, clean start. Splashes of colour normally festoon my canvas from day one. I make new intentions with sincere intention – a fitness promise, new writing goal and, of course, something spiritual to contemplate – giving no thought to what lies between the idea and the destination.

This year though, things feel a little different. My roadmap assisting me on my path to self-discovery is looking a little battered and crumpled. It is taking me to a place I have been avoiding with a vengeance, and I cannot U-turn my way out of it. So, I am not as enthusiastic as in previous years to daub my canvas with self-appreciating images and dreams. Instead, I find myself delving into a painful family truth. I am the elephant in the room.

What do you do when you realise how your past parenting behaviour has deeply affected your children’s lives? What a harsh, ‘where the rubber meets the road’ moment of self-discovery. In hindsight, I can see that parenting is as much about self-discovery as it is about nurturing. It is a time of relentless self-revelation. What we consider to be the absolute best of ourselves is challenged, and what we know to be the very worst of ourselves is exposed. And I made some terrible parenting choices I wish I could erase.

In 2017 I wrote an article about my family’s experience of domestic violence and sexual abuse. During the separation period between my leaving and finally gaining custody, my two girls suffered the most horrific, sexual, mental, and physical abuse by family members. The article describes how we got there and the consequences of my thinking making a fresh start was a complete ‘fix’ for their pain. The effects have lingered longer than they should, due to this attitude about this very dark period of our life.

The article was called Consequences. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“My stomach clenches when I hear how my youngest daughter is forced to lick the genitals of her babysitter. My eldest daughter forced to stand the other side of a locked door calling out to her sister. When my eldest daughter told her father what was happening, she was given ‘a hiding’ and returned to the babysitters. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness of not being believed must have been achingly devastating. Of how their abusers told them to take their underwear off then hung by their feet out a window. Family members beating and raping family members.”

It’s a challenging story to tell and read. Mistakenly, once again, I thought I had ‘fixed it’ by writing about it. But the healing had only begun. Over the years, I have watched my daughters grapple and wrestle with life as they attempt to expunge their pain and hurt. I find it hard to immerse myself in the trauma and pain my two girls suffered during this time and the part, I as their mother, played in it.

Yes, there are aspects of self-discovery that are dreadfully and uncomfortably unpalatable. Self-discovery not only includes the healing of your wounds but also confronting the damage you have inflicted on others. Especially those you love. This truth is my point of no return – a place where I cannot go back, cannot unknow what I already know to be the truth about myself, and cannot erase the ‘ugly’ from the self-discovery journey.

It is easy when you are in the pilot seat driving your soul-searching – where you control the unravelling and rebuilding of your inner and outer life. But even though I sit at the controls, I sense I no longer have control of where the journey is taking me. I am deeply aware of how my children need to continue to address their feelings of the past with me, as part of their healing process. It is a humbling discovery to experience, and there is a sadness in knowing this.

Understanding the past and dwelling on the past have two different outcomes. Understanding is liberating. Dwelling is debilitating. If we deny or ignore the importance, the past has on the present we will always dwell in past pains. I can see this now. And this is where I start the new year.

The belly wobbles are still there … still simmering with hope. But this year, I am reluctant to colour my canvas with pre-empted plans when my family is very much part of this stage of my journey. A healing process is happening, and I do not want to cage, capture or ‘fix’ how I perceive this year should unravel. So, for now, my canvas remains blank, but I do hope your canvas fills with bright colours.

Happy New Year

I’m feeling ALL my feels about ‘ageing.’

It all seems so unfair. All my life, I have desired straight hair. I was born with, not totally curly, and not totally wavy, hair. Most of the time it is an unruly mess, a mix of curl and wave sticking out all over the place. But now I do have straight hair. The only problem is, it’s coming out my chin!  

Somehow, I know without knowing how I know, this is part of the ageing process. And as I allow myself to think about this, a prickle of fear ripples around my heart space. My mortality taunts and I feel frightened. I grab the tweezers and furiously work to safeguard my permanence on the planet.

On the inside, I still feel all the ages I have been. My ‘wild child’ roars as much today as it did over sixty years ago. Probably more so. But not many people see the ‘wild’ these days. What they see is more of a thesaurus – wearing out, crumbling, declining, fading, waning, deteriorating -. just a few of the synonyms describing ageing on Thesaurus.com. On the outside, I have been reduced to a synonym. On the inside I want to ‘go a-wandering, with a knapsack on my back’, middle finger raised.

A few years have disappeared since I noticed my first chin hair, but my anxiety and dread around ageing still heckles. I am someone who has spent a long time learning to love my ‘true self’. But now I find myself surreptitiously stalking Google for information regarding face-lifts and eyelid lifting surgery.

 ‘A clean nude nail polish gives a more youthful appearance’, says one description. It takes a ton of willpower to stop myself hurtling out the door to the nearest supplier.

Feelings are for feeling,’ says Glennon Doyle in her latest book, Untamed.

“Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones.”

Simple but powerful words. And I’ve been working on this lately – trying to feel ALL my feels, enter into them, embrace them and express them truthfully. Especially my fears and feelings around becoming old and dying. My list of worries looks something like this:

  • Friends dying
  • Family dying
  • Me dying
  • Fear of faculties going and becoming infirm
  • Being a drag on family
  • Vanity – my body and looks deteriorating
  • Losing my usefulness in society
  • Regrets and guilts
  • A certain amount of angst over not realising how short life is and having wasted much of it living to society and patriarchal agendas.

 Last week I met up with a girlfriend for coffee. When she asked me how I was, I decided to take the plunge and reply truthfully. Instead of giving my standard stock reply of, ‘I’m good thanks,’ I said,

“I feel I am quickly passing my ‘use-by’ date and this scares the hell out of me,” I spent the next few minutes unloading feelings, some of which I didn’t know I had until I started speaking them out loud. 

 At the end, my friend said, “Oh my goodness, me too, that’s exactly how I am feeling.”

The anxiety and dread that accompanies ageing isn’t openly discussed very often, especially among women. Plenty of tips about ageing well regarding looks and activity, but deep conversations, what it feels like on the inside, are sadly lacking. Being able to speak my deepest fears felt liberating. I was learning a valuable lesson about my true-self. True self-love, says tinybuddah.com, is valid at any age; there’s no expiration date to that.

 Getting older does not magically make you wiser. The old adage, ‘Age begets wisdom’ is a little misleading. There is more truth to ‘Age begets wrinkles’ than any sort of wisdom. However, getting older does allow for more life experiences, hence opportunities, for acquiring understanding. I would like to think I am using some of this wisdom as I traverse my ageing process.   I read somewhere that if f you want to grow old happily, it’s better to face fears of ageing sooner, not later. This doesn’t mean going into battle with them; embrace them rather than battle them. I find myself doing this often. It makes them a hell of a lot less scary and anxiety-ridden. 

To some people, I may be just a synonym, but my truth is, I am more than just my body. My noisy unfettered spirit refuses to be put in a box, tamed or labelled. So for now, and for as long as I can, I’m off a-wandering, middle finger raised. 

A love affair with running

Tucked away in a cobwebby corner of the garage, sits a tattered cardboard box packed with photo albums with pages full of running certificates and newspaper clippings. The yellowed clippings and faded certificates no longer decorate the walls of my home. Instead, they have become artefacts in my museum of memories. Nothing has been added to the box for many years, but the memories contained within, are Olympic in size.

I wish I could thank the young man who introduced me to running all those years ago, but he doesn’t know of our connection. I spotted him as I was returning home from a family trip. I was a young Mum with a nine-month old baby, a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler and living in an abusive marriage.  From the comfort of my car, I recall thinking, ‘this man looks so free’. Through my eyes, he glided effortlessly along the pavement, looking as though he hadn’t a care in the world. And I desperately wanted some that. I took my first running steps that afternoon.

I’d be stretching it a bit calling it a ‘run’. It is best be described as, a very short happening. Not knowing much about the sport of running, I donned a pair of old sand-shoes and sprinted out the door. I hurtled past 3-4 neighbouring houses, before collapsing in a breathless heap onto the steps of our local dairy. My ego took a wee bit of a battering, but in that short space of time, I knew running was for me. And forty years later, I still to run.

When I entered the running scene, marathon running was booming, especially for women. New Zealander, Allison Roe, was our local hero. Her Meryl Streep looks, and wins in the Boston and New York City marathons in 1981, roused the hopes and dreams in all of us. The running club scene was booming.  There was always someone with a new training idea. We did sausage-training sessions, backward running, up-hill bounding, downhill sprints, fartlek training and endless numbers of repetitions.

I was an average runner. Not quite fast enough to represent at national level but fast enough to pick up a few prizes at club and community events. On a personal level my greatest satisfaction was breaking the 3hr barrier for the marathon distance. Distance running was my favourite – from the 5km distance through to the marathon – I tried them all and loved every single moment of it. The friendships, the triumphs and failures, of my club and competitive days, remain a precious moment in time.

Running sparked an interest in the fitness industry which, in the 1990s, was still young and slowly maturing. We were right on the cusp of the fitness boom. I completed a Certificate in Sport, Health and Fitness and became an aerobics and gym instructor. I had a special interest, and still do, in encouraging women to move to feel better. Over the years I’ve dabbled in triathlons, mountain-biking and swimming. I am even a joint holder of a tennis cup, but nothing has compared to the enjoyment I get from lacing my running shoes and heading out the door for a run.

Why do I love running? Because it calms my yearning, quietens my spirit, and halts my impetuosity. It gives me moments of clarity otherwise unreachable in my daily life. Running has accompanied me through the trials and tribulations of parenting, soothed the angst of broken marriages, and, given me profound moments of idea, creativity and insight.  No problem seems as bad at the end of a run, as it did in the beginning.

When life gets busy, whether it be with family or work, exercise is often the first thing people, especially women, put aside. It seems unimportant compared to the needs of kids, job, friends, family.   But when life gets crazy, that’s when it’s even more important to make sure you don’t put your workout or fitness routine aside. I explain to people my exercise, is just one-hour out of a twenty-four-hour day, that is solely mine – time to be alone by myself, away from the busyness of life the other twenty-three hours demand. I guard this one hour of solitude almost ferociously.

Oh yes, the lovely lonesomeness of solitude. Over the years I have run with many people. Running groups, running partners and running husbands. But it is the solitude of running on my own I enjoy the most. No one to interrupt my thoughts.  No one needing anything.  Free from the influences of living in a connected society. Free to be me. Oh yes, solitude is indeed a sweet gift.

‘A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free,’ said German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

These days the term ‘plodding’ best describes my running action. But when I’m out in the fresh air, running alone, along my favourite trails, I am the Olympic champion of plodding. Anything and everything is possible. I feel like that young man looked all those years ago – free and alive.

Coming out of the God closet (Part 1)

When I turned sixty, my mortality taunted me. What the heck happened? Where did those years go? What is, and what was, my purpose in life? To placate a rising panic, I self-published a collection of short story/essays about moments in my life that had taught me some valuable life lessons.
Not long after the book was published, I began to feel an inside-out niggle that something wasn’t quite right. I kept seeing an image in my mind of the Disney character, Scrooge, emptying his bag of coins. Then I would see myself emptying my bag of coins, except a couple of my coins were stuck fast. And no matter how hard I shook and pulled the coins; I could not dislodge them. The coins represented two untold stories that should have been in the book. Today I rip the first of these coins from the bag. I am coming out of the God closet.

A note to my family: 
When I die, I want to be remembered for the story of my soul. Currently you are not that interested in my soul. Understandably, you are busy with the busyness of your own souls. But I know, once I am gone, you will be curious to know more about the person behind the monikers of Mum, sister, wife, Aunty and Nana.

If I were to ask you what was most important to me, you would probably list a variety of outside-in activity – running, yoga, family, friends, coffee, excitement, and my love for adventure. And you would be correct.  They have given me great pleasure in life. But what you cannot see is the excitement and adventure of my spiritual life. Nor can you hear the thunderous, persistent never-ending hum of yearning saturating my inner life. I’ve always known the ‘yearning’ is somehow linked to God, and I want you to know God, is very much my adventurous inside-out, every minute of the day, activity.

It shames me to say, I have deliberately kept the extent of my relationship with God quiet. You see, I’ve become pretty adept at skirting the peripherals of God. Good at perfecting my ‘safe from ridicule’ image. Comforting myself with small peeks from within the security of my closet while withdrawing when I sense any sort of opposition. The reason? Fear!  I have been consumed by fear. Terrified of being thought of as foolish. Scared of being different in a society that demands uniformity.
Yes, fear has been a constant companion alongside my hum of yearning. Fear is so powerful. It lurks in the dark, so I want to bring it out into the light. Declaring loudly my love for God, stating ‘I am a Christian’ is my way of bringing my fear into the light.  In a way I’m facing a bully. Because that’s what fear is, a crippling, debilitating bully.

I know some of your painful life experiences will have you doubt a loving God. ‘Why did, and why does God allow bad things to happen to me?’ How I wish I could make your pain just disappear with a swish of a magic wand. Just make it go away for you. But I can’t. I don’t have a magic wand, and apparently, neither does God.  But I know this one thing.  You will continue to find many ways to soothe your pain and you can choose to do this with, or without, God. From my experience though, there is no better way to rant, rave, sob, shout, swear, laugh, be angry and pour out your pain, than doing this with God by your side.

Alongside the cacophony of noise in my soul are the doubts. How do I know you are real God? Can you believe this – professing my love for God, and then my doubt that God exists, in one breath? Yes, I do doubt. But these doubts are very much a loved part of my God journey.  I read somewhere that ‘when your faith has no room for doubt, then you are just left with—religion, something that takes its place in your life among other things—like a job or a hobby.  Doubt is God’s way of helping you to not go there.’

When I doubt, is when I seek God the most. And questioning has always been a part of my seeking – never forget this, and never forget to do this.  Questioning helped me dismantle the myths, perceptions and misconceptions that have, at times, plagued my inside-out life.  Believing just by ‘faith’ or because someone tells you to, without questioning and challenging what you hear, makes you a slave to religion. In Part 2 of my ‘note’ I explain my proof that a living God exists.

But please don’t call me religious. This terrifies me.  I do not believe in organised religion.  Separating God from religion was big me. God and religion are very different. Oh, you should have heard the melody in my soul when I realised everything, I perceived God to be, was a lie.   When I finally understood there was nothing I needed to do, or belong to, to experience God, or God’s love.

Oh yes … love! We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. People carry such wrong notions about love. And most of us journey a long way to find what is near. We look everywhere for our perception of love. For years I bought into the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. I searched for it everywhere. Did things I am not proud of, in the name of love. Tried to love according to my own, and of others’ expectations. Love was a never-ending battle of effort and, of course, failure for me.

The aching for love is a strand of yearning that links us all. And if you are seeking this love, then be sure of this one thing, this love is also seeking you. You see, what I’ve come to understand is, God’s love is inside me, not outside. Love cannot come into you; it can only come out of you. God’s love has a completely different look, feel and outcome, than the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. And it is this love that lures me out of the God closet for I cannot fully serve the truth, or follow Love’s footsteps, with one foot in the God closet.

To seek love is to seek God, and that is the story of my soul. My pondering, wandering soul in my ragged, ragtag body.  It is God. It is love.

Consequences

Flowers with background butterfly

Experience can be an excellent teacher if we reflect on our actions and their consequences. [MC]

There are always consequences. Every action, and every choice we make in life, has a consequence. Some of those consequences are minor, some are major.  Inaction also has consequences. And somewhere in the middle, I live with them all. Even after leaving your abuser, the hidden consequences of domestic violence and abuse can linger for decades. Especially for children.  In my case, the consequences have lingered longer than they should, due to my cavalier attitude of denial about this very dark period of our life. Read more